Integrated Online and Offline Advocacy Campaign Strategy

Integrated Online and Offline Advocacy Campaign Strategy

A. J. Rosenblatt (Internet Advocacy Center, USA)
Copyright: © 2007 |Pages: 5
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-789-8.ch165
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Abstract

Advocacy campaigns are considered by many to be the second cornerstone of a pluralistic, democratic society. While many may focus on the first cornerstone, voting, advocacy campaigns provide the opportunity for citizens to pool their voices to influence public policy in between elections, when the business of governing takes place. Historically, citizens would return their focus to their immediate lives shortly after a presidential election, with a more modest peak during off-year congressional elections. But with the convergence of the Internet and politics, mid-election participation is easier. Online grassroots advocacy tools help interest groups organize in a day, or two, campaigns that can easily generate tens of thousands of e-mails, faxes, telephone calls, and telegrams to policymakers at any level of government, or even at any private or international organization. These campaigns have had a major impact on the legislative process, including drastically reshaping the workload of congressional (Fitch & Goldschmidt, 2005) and agency (Shulman, 2005) staff responsible for processing citizen communication and making legislative and regulatory decisions more responsive to citizen concerns. Perhaps the most colorful story of the origins of legislative advocacy in the United States focuses on meetings between legislators and favor-seekers in the lobby of the Willard Hotel, near the White House, in the early 1800s. These “lobbyists” would wine and dine lawmakers in order to gain favor on the various issues before congress (American League of Lobbyists, 2003). While early lobbying was (and to a great degree remains) a process that relies on personal relationships and interactions between a lobbyist and lawmakers, the scope of lobbying has evolved over time to include the integration of more widespread citizen participation through interest groups and grassroots campaigns. According to David Truman in his seminal work on pluralistic politics, interest groups form as a result of a disturbance in the polity that makes people take notice of an issue (Truman, 1958). Initially, interest groups started locally and grew into national organizations. As they grew larger and more unwieldy across great distances, they faced inevitable stress on an occasional breakdown of their internal lines of communication. The Internet gives the opportunity for immediacy of communication and drastically reduces the effort involved. Interest groups now have a wide range of online tools for developing and nurturing thriving communities of like-minded people without concern for geographic proximity or scheduling/time-zone differences. From television to the Internet, the public has seen dramatic increases in their access to information about the issues that matter to them. By providing an explosion in the number of channels of communication, television (and radio) broadcasted huge amounts of uniform information. But the communication was only one-way. The Internet added multi-way communication and full-text searchability to a wealth of information on an unimaginable number of topics. This increased access to issue information, combined with the advent of new, online tools to help citizens communicate with lawmakers, has ushered in a new era of mass movement-based advocacy politics. Educating and mobilizing hundreds of thousands, and potentially millions, of activists to voice their opinions to congress in a short period of time, even in just a day or two, is a reality now. With a good strategy, interest groups can provide sufficient education and guidance to their advocacy communities to make a clear and effective chorus of voices heard in congress. Early Internet advocacy campaigns tended to focus almost exclusively on the use of Web sites, e-mail, and online advertising as the means for educating and mobilizing citizens to get involved with advocacy campaigns. As citizens and lawmakers have become more comfortable with the Internet, advocacy strategies have become more integrated, combining the new online strategies and tactics with traditional offline strategies and tactics. Where early Internet-era advocacy campaigns were “siloed” into separate online and offline tracks, the turn of the twenty-first century has seen the separate tracks weave into an integrated strategy that uses online and offline tactics to reinforce each other in a manner that dramatically increases the effectiveness of these campaigns, both with respect to mobilizing larger numbers of citizens and giving citizens more influence over public policy formation.

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